Charles Preston grew up in the Roseland community that is home to Chicago State University on the Far South Side. He has seen the good the university offers not only its 4,500 students but also surrounding neighborhoods that are mired in poverty.
“I know kids who got their first swimming lessons there,” Preston, 25, told me.
Little boys look up to young African-American men walking around with their book bags, he said. “You have to think about how important that is,” he said.
Preston has made the most of his time at CSU since leaving the University of Missouri after two semesters six years ago. He couldn’t get over the culture shock in Columbia, Missouri, or recover from a poor start academically. He returned home and for a year worked at Burger King and Walmart to pay off his student loans.
CSU was his next stop. He is majoring in African-American studies and should complete his degree by December. That’s if CSU stays open.
No university in the state has felt the stress of the budget stalemate between Gov. Bruce Rauner and Democrats as profoundly as CSU. Approximately one-third of its funding, about $36 million, comes from the state.
CSU will barely conclude the spring term after eliminating spring break and moving up the conclusion of the semester.
Over the years the school has been mired in controversies largely because of mismanagement by some of its previous top officials. The school also has the worst six-year graduation rate in Illinois. At first glance it’s an abysmal 20.7 percent, according to 2013 data compiled by The Chronicle of Higher Education.
But that number doesn’t include transfer students who make up much of CSU’s student body. If you include them, CSU’s six-year graduation rate jumps to 51 percent, school spokesman Tom Wogan said.
You also have to consider the school’s demographics. Close to 70 percent received Pell Grants in 2013. Those grants, distributed by the federal government, are based almost purely on financial need. No other Illinois university proportionately serves the poverty-stricken like this one.
And the numbers don’t tell the whole story, Preston said.
“Take it away and you’re taking away positive change,” Preston said. “You will see crime go up. You’ll see more poverty. There will be a loss of jobs and community engagement.”
Where else can Roseland residents go to get up close with politicians? Democratic presidential nominee Bernie Sanders just made a stop there. In the last mayoral election, Jesus “Chuy” Garcia and Mayor Rahm Emanuel took part in a forum there. “Other than that, people have never seen Rahm Emanuel and Chuy Garcia in person – for free,” Preston said.
Preston has led rallies to save CSU. His mother works there as an administrative assistant and like other staff and faculty members, she recently got a layoff notice. Preston said she is pushing him to find another school for the fall semester in case CSU closes. But many of his classes wouldn’t transfer so late in the game. He is counting on CSU.
And it should be saved. With appropriate oversight and funding, this school could be so much more. Oversight has been absent for too long. That’s partly why the school is in this bind.
The governor and legislators need to fix it. Current and future generations are depending on it.
Follow Marlen Garcia on Twitter: Follow @marlengarcia777